Personal accounts of 1971

Published: December 2, 2011
The writer edits a quarterly Urdu literary journal Aaj from Karachi, runs a bookshop and City Press, a small publishing house

The writer edits a quarterly Urdu literary journal Aaj from Karachi, runs a bookshop and City Press, a small publishing house

This month brings memories of what happened between December 1970 and December 1971 with us as a nation — or rather with the diverse groups aligned variously along all kinds of fissures trying to imagine themselves as a nation. Much has been written on those events in Pakistan, Bangladesh and elsewhere: from political analyses to cover-ups to attempts at apportioning the blame for one of the gravest man-made tragedies of the century. There are personal accounts too, but in most cases written by West Pakistani bureaucrats or military personnel who are usually more interested in painting themselves in a kind light than honestly recording what they observed. Or, they carry a heavy ideological baggage and are in a hurry to make their description look politically neat as per their bent.

However, these are the hazards if you wish to go through recorded memories of individuals with a curiosity to know what really happened, and what it means to us today as individuals and collectively — in whichever way we choose to align ourselves with others around us. While reading such individual memoirs one must do a lot of discounting, which is a process inevitably coloured by one’s own preferred narrative. As I intend to discuss a few such accounts in this space in the coming few weeks, let me first say what I remember.

I was a class nine student then, in a private school in Hyderabad, Sindh, which was located in a satellite town, called Latifabad, demographically dominated by us refugees from Rajasthan, UP and East Punjab, with the new, post-Partition migrants from the northern parts of West Pakistan. The school was run by a group of motivated individuals who actively sympathised with the Jamaat-e-Islami. Most members of the group were Ashraaf of Rajasthan. Although big and small towns of Sindh, including Hyderabad, had become home to a large number of Rajasthanis (and Kathiawaris and other Gujaratis as well), but since they typically belonged to non-Ashraaf castes, they were under the heavy cultural domination of the UP-Punjab elites who supported the officially defined ‘Pakistan Ideology’. This dominant politics did not have much space in it for the political aspirations of the linguistic majority of the newly restored province — i.e. the Sindhis — let alone the culturally suppressed Rajasthanis and Gujaratis, who were the ethnic vote bank of the Jamaat and different avatars of the Muslim League in those days and were destined to be taken over by the MQM, when the said politics threw away the ideological garb and came out in its true, ethnic colour.

Those managing our school, which had a reputation of being run by the Jamaat until it was nationalised under the Bhutto government’s education policy, fully reflected this politics. As school kids, we were encouraged to read the Jamaat literature and books by Iqbal and Nasim Hijazi that filled the school library and to fill in the ‘haami’ (supporter) form to attain the lowest rung of membership of the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the well-known students’ wing of the Jamaat. Beginning from class six, the entry grade at the school, we were carefully indoctrinated into supporting the Jamaat in the 1970 elections, the party which most of our parents voted for, and reading Jasarat, the organ of the Jamaat, which made a big deal out of the pomp and show demonstrated in the so-called ‘Shaukat-e-Islam’ rallies; this gave a lot of space to the ideological pronouncements of General Sher Ali Khan, the influential minister of information and broadcasting in General Yahya Khan’s martial law cabinet and predicted the sweeping victory of the Jamaat as an almost fait accompli. The Jamiat-e-Talaba literature assured us an imminent chance to turn Pakistan into another Indonesia and a graveyard of socialists (‘soshaliston ka qabrustan’). We knew little about the massacre of leftists in Indonesia at the hands of the army and its ideological disciples then, but nevertheless felt suitably excited at the nearing prospect of turning the (unseen) enemies into heaps of dead bodies (‘kushton ke pushte’).

The results of the damned 1970 elections dashed our hopes, as everyone knows very well, though not exactly quenched our thirst for the blood of those who fell in the vaguely defined category of ‘traitors’ (‘ghaddar’). We were quite liberal in categorising people as ghaddars (we still are, aren’t we!); for us anyone challenging the cultural and political hegemony of the rulers (with a particular ethnic and religious profile) was fit to be thrown into the pit. Those filling the pages of Jasarat routinely condemned many political groups as such: the Awami League, the People’s Party, the National Awami Party, the Sindh Muttahida Mahaz and other such parties (not to mention those who had the cheek to call themselves ‘socialists’ or ‘communists’ — how could anyone say such horrible things about himself, we used to wonder).

I remember the evening when I and other students from my school were attending a workshop organised by the Jamaat for the Jamiat-e-Talaba members in the courtyard of the Jamia Arabia, just at the foot of the Tilak Charrhi (facing on the opposite side of the street were St. Bonaventure Boys School and St. Mary’s Girls School). An announcement was made that our president and chief martial law administrator, General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, was about to address the nation on an important matter and that the proceedings would be suspended so that the participants could listen to the president’s speech. The public address system was made to relay the martial voice and we heard that he had ordered the army action against the traitors that we had been demanding for long. As soon as the speech ended, a resolution was passed in which the great ruler was congratulated on taking this brave step and saving Pakistan’s integrity from traitors who had been challenging the state writ ever since they had won a majority in the constituent assembly. Later, we were to be told that it was the villainous Bhutto, alone, who had blasphemously declared that the army action had saved Pakistan!

Published in The Express Tribune, December 3rd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (27)

  • Sajid
    Dec 3, 2011 - 7:16AM

    Please continue to poke these stings of truth into the balloon of lies that much of Pakistanis so happily live in.


  • No Nonsense
    Dec 3, 2011 - 8:07AM

    Ah! The December 16 morning in Chittagong. The mass of people on both sides of the road and the thunderous roar of Joi Bangla as the convoy of Indian troops appeared through the fog. Indian troops shaking hands, hugging babies! There is too much to remember and too much to mourn. The personal accounts of those who had gone there to establish the writ if West Pakistan or sided with such people as well as of Bengalis are tainted. Worse was the lot of the Biharis who stupidly sank their lot with the “invaders” (that is what the Pakistan army was called), only to be left to the wolves. Indeed there is much that has remained unsaid.


  • AnisAqeel
    Dec 3, 2011 - 9:39AM

    A good story but too lengthy to conclude that Bhutto was one major partner in creation of Bangladesh. Please continue and enlighten with your personal account while going to East Pakistan next and let us know what happened and how that military action was carried out that ‘saved Pakistan’.


  • Arifq
    Dec 3, 2011 - 11:16AM

    Air force officers of Bengali origin stationed in West Pakistan with their families were put under house arrest. Sad part, very West Pakistani families objected while others encouraged more of the same. Not much has changed.


  • JS
    Dec 3, 2011 - 11:28AM

    As a 28 year old, i was not around to see what really happened back then…but while studying for my masters in History, i can tell you that i came across ample evidence that i always suspected was there but did not want to believe. Pretty much from the day Jinnah died, this nation has been fed nothing but lies. Infact our entire narrative of Pakistani history since 1947 is a lie. We did not win the 65 war, it was at best a stalemate when it did end (although we did win a few famous battles). Then in bangladesh we committed genocide and ethnic cleansing and lost half the country and today, 99.9% of the population has selective amnesia about the event. Why has noone since 1971 asked “hey you so called proud army, corrupt politicians, crazy religious fanatics…where is half of my country?? what happened to it?? Why did you lose it??How can you allowed the nation to be dismembered???”


  • Dec 3, 2011 - 11:57AM

    shifting from Jamat e islami to MQM is an obvious continuity of fascism and totalitarianism, and ajmal describe it well yet he looks more inclined towards gujratis than Sindhies which is interesting. Jamal Naqvi, a pro Moscow Karachi CPP leader in his interview recorded that in 1967 he visited east pakistan and as party we passed a resolution in favor of separation of east Bengal. at that time even Awami League was not in favor of separation. Jamat was not the only party who was with yahya government. pro moscow communists by and large were pro indian too while pro chiniese communists were against mujeeb & co. recently, begum jahaan aara diary published in urdu, translated from bengali. she was a pro awami beleaguer and she accepted relations of awami league with India much before Agartalla case. so issue is not as simple provincial autonomy is usually depicted by scholars.


  • zalim singh
    Dec 3, 2011 - 12:34PM

    @ Author

    The Jamiat-e-Talaba literature assured us an imminent chance to turn Pakistan into another Indonesia and a graveyard of socialists (‘soshaliston ka qabrustan’). We knew little about the massacre of leftists in Indonesia at the hands of the army and its ideological disciples then, but nevertheless felt suitably excited at the nearing prospect of turning the (unseen) enemies into heaps of dead bodies (‘kushton ke pushte’).

    the above line makes my hair stand up. Why such violence and religious bigotry. That too in this part of world (indus land) i would understood it if it was 7th century arabia, where barbarism is the order of the day.


  • lota6177
    Dec 3, 2011 - 12:43PM

    Thank you for showing us the sirat ul mustaqeem.


  • Nazir Ahmed
    Dec 3, 2011 - 12:52PM

    The people of Bengal had gone more than half way to remain part of united Pakistan. It was the ruling elite of West Pakistan who did not want to share power with the majority party winning 1970 elections. Pakistan, well on road to progress, went into tailspin from which the country never recovered. I was one of those about thrity two thousand army men and about seven thousands others in different categories including the civilians, made prisoners of war in 1971. Their number was inflated to ninety three thousnads. The truth is different from the perceptions created by both, rather all sides. I traveresed almost one fourth of East Pakistan mostly on foot in those fateful months and my story is entirely different from what was propogated and has stuck. To quote just one incident which sums up the whole situation, before last light on 16 Dec as I was collecting my company from the border posts at Patni Tola to move back to Naogaon as ordered after the ‘cease fire’ was annonced, I saw a middle aged man from the nearby village swiftly walking towards me. Gripping me in firm embrace he started weeping and wailing saying that they had never wanted this to happen.Recommend

  • Jack
    Dec 3, 2011 - 4:37PM

    The single biggest danger that Pakistan still faces is the forcible indoctrination of its children and youth by these hate-mongers. Everything else – dysfunctional democracy, strong military, ailing economy, widespread poverty, rising fundamentalism, bad relations with neighbors, compulsive conspiracy theories that explain (yep) everything, negative concept of nationalism (where a common enemy is required to bring the nation together) can be seen as a consequence of this. This does not mean that you need to change your opinions, only have well-formed ones that are built on facts. You may also then focus less on what your role is meant to be in the larger world based on your geo-strategic position (has not been of use yet), relationships with old and new superpowers or the Ummah (has not been of use yet) nuclear assets (unlikely to ever be used) or exploding population (no explanation required), and instead on becoming more relevant as a market and rising economy. Automatically you will find that Pakistan will move the Indonesia way, and then the above points will actually become your strengths.


  • Rehan Ali
    Dec 3, 2011 - 5:47PM

    One word, SHUKRIYA
    Your memoirs of of and around the debacle are highly anticipated.


  • G. Din
    Dec 3, 2011 - 6:00PM

    TRUTH shall set you free!
    And, no matter how deep or how often you bury it, it surfaces when you least expect it to do so!


  • Cynical
    Dec 3, 2011 - 6:00PM

    It will be interesting to know the fate of the bengalis who were living in west pakistan during those days.Did some of them decided no to go back to east pakistan (now Bangladesh).


  • Musthaq Ahmed
    Dec 3, 2011 - 6:33PM

    @Nazir Ahmed:
    This is official version !


  • Truth Teller
    Dec 3, 2011 - 6:58PM

    Sadly even in 2011, we are still living in 1971. We SURELY have learned NOTHING from the history!


  • DILU
    Dec 3, 2011 - 8:35PM

    Bhutto, Yahya, Niazi and Shiekh Mujeeb, all these so called leaders are responsible for massacre of muslims using hands of muslims.

    Most of the Pakistanis still dont know what actually happened in 1970-71. A large number of urdu speaking ppl were killed by mukti bahani, infact hundreds of thousands. After this massacre Mujeeb declared indepeence in march 71. Pak army started the operation after all this. However Pakistanis are forced to believe that after army operation Bangalis declared indepednece. It is infact the other way round.


  • Nazir Ahmed
    Dec 3, 2011 - 10:13PM

    @Mushtaq Ahmed. Since you have gained your knowledge through books and magazines and may be from the BBC and All India Radio if you are that old, your knowledge is more authentic. My experience of suffering the ordeal is different from what you seem to know. It is long story. About ten percent Bengalis mostly young,vocal,educated and influential persons with Indian links were actively involved for independent Bangladesh. More than that number were fighting against them alongwith the Pakistan Army. Rest of the population, wanting peace was not for breakup of Pakistan. As I have mentioned it was people here in Pakistan who wanted to break up the country. I think you failed to notice the number of POWs I have mentioned. It is not official version. If you or anyone else is interested to know a version different from official one, my mail address is [email protected]. I can send you a detailed write up which will give some more details on the tragic events.


  • Iqbal
    Dec 4, 2011 - 10:22AM

    If anyone do really want to know what happened during the creation of Bangla desh or what the Bhutto did at that time or why we lost East Pakistan than you should read a book named Bangla Desh Genocide and World Press Compiled and edited by Fazlul Quader Quaderi


  • Dec 4, 2011 - 11:49AM

    What is happening now in Baluchistan and FATA is not any way different from what happened then in East Pakistan. Have we learned any lessons? We blame everybody but us.


  • observer
    Dec 4, 2011 - 6:48PM

    @Nazir Ahmad

    If you or anyone else is interested to know a version different from official one

    I would strongly recommend the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report for starters.


  • Nazir Ahmed
    Dec 4, 2011 - 7:02PM

    @Shabnam Birbi:
    Before equating situation of Baluchistan and FATA with that of East Pakistan, one should try to understand boh the situations. Certainly there is no comparison although our enemies are trying thier best to put us in present difficulties.


  • Nazir Ahmed
    Dec 5, 2011 - 9:57AM


    Hamoodur Rahman Commision was formed by ZA Bhutto, the main character in break up of Pakistan. It was meant to demonise the Pakistan Army which it tried to do.


  • ksri
    Dec 5, 2011 - 11:02AM

    Pakistan Army owe an apology to Bangladeshis for the genocide. The war tribunal set up Bangladesh will reveal the terror campaign and crime against humanity unleashed by Pakistan army prior to liberation war.


  • Dec 5, 2011 - 12:03PM

    still after passing 65 years we have not balance and unbiased analysis of partition of 1947 and 1971. saloganism is on the top while analysis is full of biases both in favor or opposition.


  • Nazir Ahmed
    Dec 5, 2011 - 1:28PM

    @ ksri

    People in Bangladesh know what happened in those tragic times and who indulged in genocide. The blame on pakistan Army of genocide is absulutely false.If anyone is interested to know about the atrocities committed during 1971, he should start with finding out the number of non Bengalis living in East Pakistan on 03 Feb 1971, how many were left after two months i.e. by the end of April 71when the Army was able to restore order in the country and what happened to the rest. Pakistan Army totalling about thirty two thousand men after reinforcements flown by air was tasked to restore normalcy. It was too disciplined a force to have committed atrocities. Blaming Pakistan Army and not the rulers who use or misuse this vital organ of the state is playing into the hands of those forces who are constantly working to downgrade Pakistan Army’s image and demoralise it to reduce its effectiveness.


  • Shakir Lakhani
    Dec 5, 2011 - 3:54PM

    There are thousands of Bengalis in Karachi, their families decided to stay in West Pakistan, not because they loved Pakistan but because they knew they did not have much of a future in Bangladesh. Even today, they do not want to go back for this reason.


  • Dec 5, 2011 - 8:15PM

    few months back, a person posted a picture of Pakistani currency note on his wall which have two languages written on it, on was urdu and other was Bengali. one of the Facebook friend, born after 1971 wrote a note with astonishment is it real? i told him that Bengali was co-national language in Pakistan and both 1962 and 1956 constitutions endorsed that decision. he told me that i did graduation from Bangladesh yet in my 14 year education career, that fact was not in our text books. so it was a reality that south Asian states often plays with facts under the influence of their supper national isms. just pick 10 metric students from each, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and ask them about vital facts of last 65 years and u will realized what type of products we r producing in south Asia. i visited Bangladesh in 2009, did lot of interviews. i published two interviews in the left liberal awami jamhori forum while some will be published soon. i visited war museum at dhakka, met his founders who are now skeptical towards what they did in 1971. as we have no live debates in south Asia so in such segregated world we often depends on sologanism rather ground realities.


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